What to Do If You Receive an Overpayment Notice
But what about people who are just caught in the middle of an antiquated system that is ill-equipped to handle requests from the newly unemployed? Let’s posit that you’ve received a notice from your state unemployment office claiming that you’ve been overpaid by thousands of dollars. There was no red flag. You followed all the steps required in your initial filing, have been diligently certifying your claim weekly, and have been receiving the assistance that you thought was due to you. Now you’ve been told that you owe some—or all—of that back. What can you do?
- File an appeal: If you feel that you received the notice in error, go to your state unemployment website to request a hearing.
- Request a waiver: If the overpayment is legitimate, then you may be entitled to either a waiver or forgiveness of it. Either way, you may only have a small window of time to request such an action, so be sure to check with your state’s requirements.
- Repay the money: Either contact your state department of labor to work out a repayment plan or simply pay the amount back in full.13
Regarding Waivers, According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a “state may authorize a waiver when or if the overpayment was not the fault of the claimant and requiring repayment would be against equity and good conscience or would otherwise defeat the purpose of the UI [unemployment insurance] law.”14
Until recently, that did not include PUA, which is a federal program. However, under the latest stimulus bill, states may waive overpayment of PUA if “(A) the payment of such pandemic unemployment assistance was without fault on the part of any such individual; and (B) such repayment would be contrary to equity and good conscience.”15
While states have been given the ability to grant waivers, it doesn’t mean that all of them will, so it is important to check your state’s labor department rules as soon as possible.16 The rules are constantly changing, and there are several bills making their way through different state legislatures.
One thing you should do is act quickly. Gather any records, screenshots, statements, or notes that document your case. State labor departments can (and often will) automatically begin garnishing any future unemployment or other wages. Even if the finding of overpayment is wrong, mistakes are not always easy to untangle, and you still may wind up having money garnished.
If you have received an overpayment of unemployment insurance and want to file a waiver, then you should act quickly, as state labor departments automatically start to garnish your future income or unemployment benefits.17
Pushing for Change, While the latest stimulus bill allows for both state and federal nonfraudulent overpayments to be waived or forgiven, it’s up to the states to make that happen. For example, Virginia, which had been among the states that did not forgive overpayments, recently approved legislation that would allow for “the repayment of an overpayment of benefits waived where the claimant is at no fault for the overpayment and the repayment would be contrary to equity and good conscience during specified benefit weeks that occurred during the COVID-19 health pandemic.” However, this remains a temporary measure that is only valid from March 21, 2020, through July 3, 2021.18
The New York State Department of Labor recently announced on Twitter that “in April and May of 2020, a small portion of claimants received duplicate payments.”19 It’s been widely reported that the department overpaid more than $114 million in benefits due to errors on its part.20 The Twitter announcement sparked a backlash online, leaving many claimants scrambling for answers.
It also prompted 12 state senators to send a letter urging the department to enact a policy of waiving or forgiving overpayments. “The collection of unemployment overpayments is a particularly troublesome burden on individuals during the ongoing pandemic and economic crisis,” they wrote, adding: “At a time when it appears that the New York State Department of Labor is still overwhelmed by volume of current claims, prioritizing departmental resources on collecting overpayment could be reconsidered.”21
While many states are trying to take action to address the overpayment and waiver and forgiveness issues, it’s unclear how these policies will be enacted and how long they will last.